Spring Training Notebook: Righthanders Jack Leiter And Owen White Give Rangers Rotation Options
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Through their actions before the lockout, the Rangers made it clear they intend to contend in the near future. Their offense got a pair of massive jolts through the signings of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for the middles of their infield and lineup.
They dealt with the Twins to acquire catcher Mitch Garver, and then inked righthander Jon Gray through free agency to give the team a true jewel at the top of the rotation.
The question now is: As Texas continues to point itself toward October, who will Texas turn to in the rotation behind Gray? Two of those potential answers took the hill on consecutive days at the team’s spring training complex.
First up on Thursday was Owen White, a powerful righthander who’d had his professional debut delayed three seasons because of injuries and the pandemic. Even his first official action in 2021 was stunted by a broken hand suffered in his first start of the year.
Between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League, White tossed just 63.2 innings last season. When he did get on the mound, however, he was mighty impressive. And when he toed the slab against a group of Mariners minor leaguers on Thursday, much was the same.
He sizzled in lively fastballs in the mid-to-upper 90s, got hitters out in front of changeups, and flashed a pair of excellent breaking pitches, though both were inconsistent for the entirety of his outing.
The 22-year-old White is likely to begin the year at High-A Hickory, though he could advance quickly to Double-A Frisco if he has anywhere near the same level of dominance he showed at Low-A and the Fall League in 2021.
The stuff is plenty good. Now, it’s about staying healthy and getting as many innings under his belt as possible before he’s ready to make his debut in Arlington.
While White’s lack of innings kept him relatively under the radar until last season, the Rangers’ starter on Friday is as famous as they come. That would be righthander Jack Leiter, the Vanderbilt co-ace whom Texas selected with the No. 2 overall pick a season ago.
A heavy workload with the Commodores led the Rangers to opt to shut him down for the rest of the year, meaning his first start in 2022—likely to come at Double-A Frisco—will mark his first official pitch as a professional.
Like White, Leiter was a bit inconsistent in his most recent turn, but he still flashed enough of his potential to garner 10 swings and misses in three innings. His fastball touched as high as 99 mph and at his best his slider and curveball turned hitters into pretzels.
The command wasn’t the sharpest—especially to his glove side—but his pitch mix and pedigree give the Rangers plenty to dream on as Leiter gets set to officially begin his professional career.
Beyond Leiter and White, the Rangers also have plenty of other options, including righthander Cole Winn, the system’s No. 3 overall prospect and the American League’s starter in the Futures Game last season. He dominated the upper levels at 21 years old and could be in line for a big league debut at some point this season.
Current big leaguers Spencer Howard and Glenn Otto—each of whom were acquired in trades in 2021—could fill those roles too. Howard was a former Phillies top prospect who has scuffled in the majors, while Otto remade himself with the Yankees before being flipped to Texas as part of the haul for Joey Gallo.
By signing Seager, Semien and Gray, Texas has taken the first steps toward contending for at least a division crown in the American League West. If the arms on the farm step forward, then those goals might be even closer than they seem.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Though he’s a reliever, Rangers righthander Emiliano Teodo seems primed for a breakout campaign. He’s been up to 102 mph in camp this spring and pairs the fastball with a curveball that spins at rates better than 3,000 rpms. The quality and quantity of his strikes needs to improve, but there’s plenty to dream on … Similarly, Rangers righthander Winston Santos has taken a step forward with his velocity and now bumps 97 mph. He’s one to watch as well … Royals lefthander Asa Lacy, who struggled with command and control in his pro debut in 2021 did so again opposite Leiter on Friday. He brought his fastball up to 99 mph and broke off several devastating changeups but his command and control were loose all afternoon … Fellow Kansas City prospects Drew Parrish and Noah Murdock each brought their fastballs into the upper 90s in their most recent outings … Texas lefthander Cole Ragans, the organization’s foremost changeup artist, touched 97 mph with his fastball in relief of Leiter.